371st Fighter Group Hall of Honor: Lt. Col. William J. Daley, Jr.

The members of the Hall of Honor for the 371st Fighter Group are those men lost in the line of duty during their service with the unit in World War II. For many, their assignment to the 371st fighter group was their only wartime assignment. But there were others who had already experienced and had seen combat before they joined the group.  One of these was the Deputy Commander of the 371 FG, Lt Col William James Daley, Jr., who was lost in a flying accident while leading a combat mission in September, 1944.

Lt. Col. William J. Daley, Jr., flew with No. 121 (Eagle) Squadron, RAF,and the USAAF's 335th Fighter Squadron before he joined the 371st Fighter Group in 1943.

Lt. Col. William J. Daley, Jr., flew with No. 121 (Eagle) Squadron, RAF,and the USAAF’s 335th Fighter Squadron before he joined the 371st Fighter Group in 1943. (Source:  371FG “Blue Book”)

William Daley was born on 30 November 1919 at either Canadian or Hemphill, Texas, depending on the source indicated. He later lived in Amarillo, Texas and this was his home of record during his military service.

On March 11, 1941 President Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Act, which authorized the shipment of military supplies and equipment to allied nations. With this program, Great Britain was able to expand its pilot training program beyond its empire and the British Flying Training Program was established at seven locations in the United States.

William J. Daley, Jr., saw the clouds of war approaching the United States and volunteered to join the Royal Air Force before the United States began fighting in World War II. He learned to fly in the 3rd British Flying Training School at Miami, Oklahoma, a small town about 100 miles northeast of Tulsa. Apparently the Spartan College of Aeronautics at Tulsa, Oklahoma, was involved with this program.

It appears that Daley received his pilot wings in Canada on 27 June 1941, the date upon which he was granted a commission “…for the duration of hostilities…” as a Pilot Officer (P/O) on probation in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR). (Note: Another future 371FG member also received his commission with Daley’s group that day, Eric Doorly, who while serving in the RAF had a memorable escape and evasion experience.)

Information indicates Daley arrived in Great Britain on 9 July 1941 and began his operational conversion training for fighters at No. 56 Operational Training Unit (OTU) on 14 July at Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire, England.

Of the young men who signed up to fly with the RAF, Daley was one of some 244 of them, with an average age of 21, who went to serve in one of the three “Eagle” squadrons, the three RAF fighter squadrons of RAF Fighter Command. These Eagle Squadrons were numbered 71, 121 and 133.  They began to fly and fight against Nazi Germany ten months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Assigned to B Flight in No. 121 (Eagle) Squadron to ‘B’ Flt at Kirton-in Lindsey, Daley flew the renowned Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane. He was known as ‘Diamond Jim’ while with 121 Squadron. A source indicates that while with the ‘Eagles’ (or perhaps as a result of his service in the unit) he received the British Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) around 16 June 1942. His citation read in part “Since Feb, 42 has completed 51 ops over N/France, Holland & Belgium destroying at least 2 e/a.”

The Eagle Squadrons of the RAF were deactivated on September 29, 1942 when they transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces and became the flying squadrons of the 4th Fighter Group, which was assigned to the famous Eighth Air Force. The war did not get any easier after this transfer, and by the end of the war 44 percent of the Eagle Squadron cadre lost their lives.

And so it was, after 22 months of flying with the British, on September 29, 1942, Flight Lieutenant (another source indicates he had Squadron Leader rank) William Daley transferred to the USAAF and to fly the Spitfire in the 335th Fighter Squadron of the new 4FG. This group went on to become the highest scoring American fighter group of World War II with credit for 1,016 enemy aircraft destroyed.

Shortly after transfer, Daley was promoted to Major and became the Commanding Officer of the 335FS – The “Chiefs.” Worth note, this squadron is still on active duty today, as part of the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. You can see a profile painting of his Spitfire at the link here: http://wp.scn.ru/en/ww2/f/52/3/1

But Daley’s command tour in the Chiefs did not last long, and by 11 November 1942 he returned to the US in order to share his valuable combat experience with others, giving lectures and advice on combat tactics to others destined for combat duty overseas. In 1943, he joined the 371FG as a member of the original cadre when the group was activated 15 July 1943 and was initially appointed to the Headquarters, 371st Fighter Group as the Group Operations Officer.

On August 7, Major Daley was detached for duty to Washington D.C. to receive the British DFC for his Eagle Squadron service. He returned to the group on August 9. According to the Group history, “His experience as a former R.A.F. pilot was extremely valuable to the group.” At some point later in his service in the 371st, he became the Deputy Group Commander.

On 1 February, 1944, Maj. Daley was ordered to proceed ahead of the Group to England, and left via air transport from the New York aerial port. He was probably in the advanced echelon sent ahead to make arrangements for the group’s arrival by ship some weeks later.

On 25 March 1944, Maj. Daley, along with Group Commander Lt. Col. Klein, Capt Doorly and Capt. Salmi made their first operational flight over enemy territory as members of the 371FG while attached to another unit on an escort mission. The 371FG itself did not fly its first combat mission as a group until April 12. By 24 May, Maj. Daley had flown enough missions to qualify for award of the Air Medal. He was promoted to Lt. Col. on either 31 May 1944 or 1 June 1944, depending on which document one refers to.

On June 5, 1944, Lt. Col. Daley was to receive the Air Medal, First Oak Leaf Cluster at a ceremony presided over by Brig. Gen, A.C. Kincaid, the Chief of Staff of IX Tactical Air Command, but he was convalescing in a hospital nursing an injured back. He returned to duty the next day ”…a shade whiter and somewhat thinner,” but “…still as genial as ever,” according to the group history.

He was not long on the ground. Group history reports show him active, for example, he led the 406FS in an attack against the marshalling yard at Rennes, France, on 26 July 1944. The next day, he led 14 P-47s from the 406th again in an attack on tanks reported at T-295757.

On September 9, 1944, while leading the 404th Fighter Squadron in P-47D 42-28426 out of A-6 Airfield, Lt Col Daley was part of a group effort (all three fighter squadrons, 36 ships total) to dive bomb the Castines RR bridge (U-8222) and Pompey road bridge (at U-8219), and afterwards to conduct armed reconnaissance along the main and secondary roads in vicinity of Morzig (Q-2095, probably Merzig), Saarburg (L-1413), Trier, and Luxembourg, where heavy vehicle movement had been reported. The group was to fly from homebase at A-6 to A-58/Coulommiers Airfield, where it was to refuel and bomb up before executing the mission. Afterward it was to return to A-58, fuel again and return to A-6. At this point in the war the group was stretching itself from its Normandy base to continue to support the rapid Allied advance across France.

A-58, however, was not really ready to accommodate such an ambitious effort, and the 371FG planes were not refueled in time, nor loaded with bombs, to accomplish the mission – one squadron’s report said that A-58 had no fuzes for the bombs. The matter was further exacerbated when Lt. Col. Daley was involved in a landing accident at A-58 with another pilot from the 404FS. After landing successfully, Lt. Col. Daley’s ship was struck from behind while taxiing by another P-47D that lost control while landing and Daley was gravely injured. He died from his wounds the next day in the 217th General Hospital at the age 24, forever young. Regarded as a fine pilot and leader, Frisky’s Blue Book has this tribute to him on page 27: “He had endeared himself to all ranks and his loss was keenly felt.”

Lt. Col. William J. Daley Jr. received credit for 2 1/2 enemy aircraft destroyed, and three more damaged. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with eight Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster and the British Distinguished Flying Cross. Lt Col Daley is buried at the Epinal American Cemetery in Plot B, Row 25, Grave 65, in Epinal, France. His example of dedicated service to his country and to freedom is worth commemoration, and inclusion in the 371st Fighter Group Hall of Honor.

4th Fighter Group WWII Almanac, at: http://www.4thfightergroupassociation.org/4th-fighter-group-almanac.html
335th Fighter Squadron Factsheet, at: http://www.seymourjohnson.af.mil/library/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=4526
371FG Official Histories, various, 1943-44
A-58/Coulommiers-Voisins Airfield, at: http://www.forgottenairfields.com/france/ile-de-france/seine-et-marne/coulommiers-voisins-s1153.html

American Battle Monuments Commission website, at: http://www.abmc.gov/home.php

British Flying Training School Program, Wikipedia page at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Flying_Training_School_Program

“British Flying Training Schools in the USA,” at: http://www.5bfts.org.uk/articles/history/fullhistory.aspx

Daley’s Spitfire color profile at: http://wp.scn.ru/en/ww2/f/52/3/1

Discussion thread about William J. Daley, Jr., circa August, 2010, at:

Eagle Squadron cadre trained at Spartan, at: http://www.spartan.edu/eagle-squadrons

Lend-Lease, Wikipedia page at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lend-Lease

“No. 1 British Flying Training School Museum, Inc.,” at: http://texaslakestrail.com/plan-your-adventure/historic-sites-and-cities/sites/no-1-british-flying-training-school-museum-inc

“RAF Sutton Bridge,” Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Sutton_Bridge

Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology website, at: http://www.spartan.edu/

“The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.,” Army & Navy Press, Baton Rouge, LA, 1946 (aka The Blue Book)

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1 Response to 371st Fighter Group Hall of Honor: Lt. Col. William J. Daley, Jr.

  1. Pingback: Working on the Fourth | 371st Fighter Group

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